This is our first monthly report for our pet blog case study . This is where you can watch how we build a (hopefully) successful new pet blog, month by month.
You can also find out what happens when your ‘pin it’ button breaks! Or when you give a blog post the wrong title!
Read on for plenty of tips and to find out what we are up to
We’ll be revealing the identity of the new blog in a few weeks time.
Today’s report is all about the period leading up to the launch of the blog at the beginning of this month.
Future reports will be for each month moving forwards from the date of the launch.
We won’t have any traffic to report on this month, as we only launched the blog a few days ago.
We’ll kick off these reports by summing up what we did in the way of preparation and setting up for the new blog during August 2016.
What we will include in future reports
In future reports we’ll summarise any changes or updates we have made to the site over the previous month.
We’ll talk about the results we are seeing, what we have learned, and what we plan to do next.
This first time, there won’t be any results, but we’ve done quite a lot of work behind the scenes so I’ll fill you in on that.
We’ll also be including lots of tips that we hope will help you, as you set out on your own blogging journey.
Planning and preparing our new blog
Our new pet blog went through our usual planning and preparation stage.
Because we want to grow this into an authority blog, or respected resource on the topic, our planning stage took several months, and we wrote a number of well researched pillar articles well in advance.
Our approach with pet blogs is to provide a fun and practical resource, built on a foundation of solid science.
We don’t ‘curate’ material from other websites, or focus on news items. Instead, we prioritise evergreen content and in-depth information on pet care and health.
This fits in with our skills and scientific background.
It does mean reading and interpreting research papers, as well as getting to know the animals we are writing about really well.
Blogs and keywords
Keywords are simply the popular search terms that people type into google when they are looking for something.
We don’t get hung up over keywords, fussing over them too much can make an article look false and be boring to read.
But we don’t ignore them either.
That’s because if you use terms and language that people aren’t looking for, no-one will find you. This is especially important in article titles and subheadings.
For example, on the Labrador Site we once had an article called “Combining a Labrador Puppy With a Full Time Job”.
Last summer Lucy noticed that the article was not getting much attention.
Based on some keyword searches, she changed the name to Advice on Raising a Labrador Puppy While You Work Full Time. This was the result – a doubling in traffic that then continued to go up
Just by putting important keywords like ‘advice’ and ‘raising a labrador puppy’ and ‘work full-time’ in the title. No-one was searching for ‘job’ or ‘combining a labrador puppy’.
It is now one of our most popular articles.
During the planning stage for our new project, we created a spreadsheet with many important keywords for our pet blog and recorded the number of monthly searches each of those keywords can be expected to generate in Google.
If you open a Google Adwords account, you can find this information in the keywords planner tool.
It is often surprising to discover what people search for. It isn’t always what you expect.
We will try to tackle some of the important keywords on this topic, in reverse order. In other words, beginning with the ones on our list that have fewer searches and less competition.
Looking at our competitors
Making a list of competitors is a good idea for a number of reasons.
You can find out what keywords your competitors are ranking for, and add these to your lists of keywords
Looking at competitor’s sites gives you an idea what you are up against, and what people are reading right now.
But also, it gives you a source of material to share on your Facebook page when you set it up. We use Bloglovin to help gather that material
Choosing and purchasing our domain
We’d chosen our blog name and purchased our domain several months ago, when our ideas for the site were still germinating.
Domains are very cheap, and they are also constantly being snapped up. It gets harder as time goes on, to buy the names you like.
If you think of a good name you might like to use in the future, and it’s available, it’s well worth buying it now.
Brainstorming title ideas
Perhaps the most important part of our blog preparation was to brainstorm at least fifty ideas for blog titles.
We wanted some in each of the key areas we would be focusing on.
By mid August we had completed the planning and preparation stage and were ready to get the blog hosting and content management systems set up.
Setting up our hosting and content management
We placed our new blog on cheap, shared hosting package, with Bluehost.
We anticipate moving it later, but a package like this is usually all you need for the first year or so, and we also wanted to document the process for our readers. With some simple blogs, it is all you will ever need.
We installed WordPress on both sites, then the Genesis framework. We then placed a Genesis child theme on the top.
WordPress themes are a ‘skin’ that goes on top of the WordPress system to enable you to set the look and style of your blog. Genesis is our favorite WordPress theme.
A bit about Genesis for WordPress
Genesis is a premium WordPress theme that comes in two parts – a basic framework, with a ‘child theme’ on top.
Genesis works beautifully with WordPress to give your site a nice structure and great functionality. It is a high end product with very clean code, fast loading times, and it is very well supported.
Separating the theme into a two-part framework plus child theme, enables you to update the framework regularly without losing any design changes you might have made.
All themes are updated regularly in order to keep up with improvements in WordPress and to address bugs and security issues, so this is an important feature.
Once you have paid for Genesis, you can install it on any site you own or manage without incurring any further costs. So the more sites you have, the more cost effective it is.
For a personal, journal type blog, a free theme is often sufficient. At least to get you started.
After installing Genesis, we then installed the Genesis Palette. This is a WordPress plug in which enables you to make some extra design changes to the appearance of your site without writing any code.
Categories and menus
Setting up categories and menus is an important part of managing the content on your blog. We set up our categories and menus as soon as Genesis was installed.
Categories give you a way to sort the content of your blog and divide it into different topics.
A great way to begin with your first blog is to separate your subject into three or four topic areas and set up your categories and menus to reflect these topics.
Check out that link for help in setting this up in your own WordPress blog.
We chose five category topics for our new pet blog.
We can add to these later if we want to. We set up the menu to link to the category archives, you can have your menus do the same, or link to pages or posts that you have written.
Setting up our home page
Our next task was to set up our home page. First we put some ‘placeholder posts’ up, so that we could get the home page looking pretty much as we wanted it.
This is because we are using a magazine theme that draws content for the home page from within the site.
If you have a traditional blog feed as your home page, there won’t be anything to set up, so you won’t need to publish any placeholders.
A placeholder post is just a post with a feature image and a line of text. ‘Placeholder 1’ for example. You can delete these once you have published some real posts.
Alternatively, you can avoid using placeholders by setting up your homepage after you have published some real posts. But the blog will look a little strange until your set up is complete.
We installed our email management tools, next. We wanted these to be ready from the very first day.
When we first started blogging several years ago we were slow to set these up on our websites and that was a big mistake.
Email contact with your readers is very important to the growth of your websites as it enable you to keep in touch even if your social media accounts or Google let you down and stop sending some of your traffic.
Readers like to keep in touch
Emails make it easy for readers to link with you, and if you write well, many of them will want to do this.
After all the first thing you probably do when you’ve finished a good book, is look for another one by the same author.
Your readers will do the same. But they are only likely to do this if you make it easy for them by letting them know when you next publish.
Email sign up boxes
The time a new reader is most likely to share their email address with you for this purpose is when they get to the end of your post.
As an absolute minimum, this is where a sign-up option needs to be available on a new blog. You’ll see an example at the foot of this page
Many bloggers have a sign up box in their sidebar and leave it at that. But don’t forget, while you are most likely working on your blog on your laptop or desktop computer, most of your visitors now, are probably going to be viewing your site on a mobile phone.
And there are no sidebars on mobile view.
Our email tools
The tools we use for collecting, storing and distributing emails are Aweber and Thrive Leads
These work very nicely together.
Aweber is an email distribution service and Thrive leads is a WordPress plug in that provides you with a neat way of creating nice sign up boxes that people can use to give you their email addresses and subscribe to your updates.
Aweber is free for a 30 day trial, then $19 a month until you have 500 subscribers. There are other email distribution services you can try.
Thrive leads is a paid plug-in. Like Genesis, it is a once only payment and can be installed on many sites.
The downside to Thrive leads is that it is quite large (11mb) Many web hosting companies have a maximum plug in upload size smaller than this.
This has caused up problems in the past so I uploaded the plug ins folder directly to the websites through the ‘back door’
Unless you are familiar with uploading plug ins directly into the back end of your website, you’ll probably need to ask your hosting company to temporarily raise their maximum plug in limit while you install Thrive.
You can usually arrange this via live chat or email. It only takes a few minutes. If you don’t want to bother with this, or don’t want to pay for Thrive Leads, you can use Aweber’s own free sign up templates.
The choice and design options are limited but it’s a simple option to get you started. Lucy explains how to do this in her Aweber article: How To Start An Email List.
It is easy to set up a short-code with Thrive that generates a sign up box wherever you place the code.
We styled our boxes to co-ordinate with the site’s design – this is also easy with Thrive. We can now just drop this code into the foot of each article we publish. The next step was to set up our blog management tools
Blog management tools
We use four basic blog management tools on our sites. They are
- Yoast SEO
- Google search console
- Google analytics
I’ll give you a quick summary of each of these, but we’ll be writing more about them individually later. The first three are WordPress plug-ins.
One of the great things about WordPress is that thousands of plug-ins have been designed to work with it. These plug-ins can each have a different purpose.
Install Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is designed to help your blog get found by google.
It goes in first because it helps us with the search console. It has a simple box to drop the console verification code into.
Yoast provides a sections at the foot of each blog post you publish that you can fill in, and gives you a traffic light system to let you know when you have completed important tasks that will help your blog be found among the billion other blogs out there.
Set up the search console
The search console used to be called Webmaster tools and I used to run away very fast when anyone mentioned it. I was convinced it was too complicated for me.
Well, it isn’t. And you need it.
So the best thing is get started with it straight away.
The search console shows you all the search terms for which google has displayed your website in the search engine results, the position in those results that Google gave your site, and the number of people that clicked on the result.
We’ll be talking about how to use this important information later.
To begin with Google won’t show your site very often to anyone, and when they do, you’ll be lucky to get position two hundred and something. So clicks will be rare.
But gradually, things will start to improve and you can use the information in the search console to hurry that improvement along. It’s pretty much a case of set it and forget it for now.
You can instal the search console verification code via the webmaster tools tab in your Yoast dashboard.
Just copy and paste the tag that the search console provides in between the two sets of quotation marks. We’ll be explaining this in more detail later
One thing to note is that you must add both versions of your url – that is to say with, and without, the www. at the front. You don’t need to enter the verification code twice, just click the verify button again and you’ll be good to go.
Set up Google Analytics
After the search console, we set up Google Analytics. This is an amazing, sophisticated piece of software provided free of charge by Google.
I am embarrassed to admit that I spent far too long ignoring it. The data we get from analytics is essential now for our daily and weekly tasks
Analytics enables you to track how many visitors you have, where they come from and what they look at when they are on your website. And while it can be complicated, you can use the simple parts of it fromthe start, while you are figuring out the rest
Analytics is crucial for discovering which of your posts are successful, and which are not.
If you are using Genesis, installing the code that Google analytics needs in order to track your webpages is as easy as falling off a log.
Just go to the Genesis menu, theme settings, and scroll to the bottom. There you will find a box where you can place header and another for footer scripts. Copy your analytics tracking code and paste it into the header scripts box of your Genesis theme.
Unlike the search console, Analytics will start reporting almost immediately
Incidentally, we always tell analytics to ignore visits from our own computers, but we don’t think it takes much notice.
The screen shots you see in this article are a good illustration of just how important google analytics is when it comes to identifying and resolving problems.
Set up the excel spreadsheet
Our final task in this section was to set up an excel spreadsheet.
Here we track the performance of each article we publish, and the steps we take to update and promote it. If you publish a blog post without promoting it, the post will probably never be found.
If you are on a Mac, you can use Numbers instead. We’ll be sharing our spreadsheet process with you in another article.
Okay, we were on the home straight at this point. Just social media to go. And here is what we have done with social media for our pet blog case study so far.
Here are the most important social media tools that we use
- Pin this
Social media can be a lot of fun. And everyone has their favorites. But in order to generate any kind of traffic from social media, you need to put a lot of effort in.
Its one of those situations where the effort involved, can suck all the joy out of social media if you are not careful.
Facebook and Pinterest
Facebook is our primary social media channel for our pet sites, and we put a lot of effort into it. We’ve created a new Facebook page for our pet blog.
We love chatting to our followers on Facebook and Pinterest but they are also an important source of traffic to our website.
If we want them to visit our pages, we need to provide them with interesting posts and pins.
We can’t just flood them with our own stuff, people would soon get bored of that. We need to provide our fans with entertaining and interesting information from a range of different sources.
We use Bloglovin‘ to find great articles by other bloggers and we post these up on Facebook. On Pinterest we pin great pins that others have put up, as well as a few of our own.
Most days I check my Bloglovin’ feeds and add any blogs I think will interest my readers to Meet Edgar.
I’ve created a group in Bloglovin for this new pet blog.
Who is Edgar?
Meet Edgar is a social media scheduling tool. If I find six articles today that I think my readers might like, and I share them all on my Facebook page at eleven o clock this morning, my readers are going to feel a bit flooded and overwhelmed.
Meet Edgar lets us space out our posts without having to be on our social media page constantly throughout the day.
Most of our visitors are from the USA and we are in the UK. Edgar enables us to post when our overseas readers are up and about, even if we are in bed.
There are other schedulers, but they all delete posts once they have been shared. Edgar is unique in that it keeps a growing library of posts and if you have nothing fresh to share, it dives into your library and re-shares something you have shared before.
This is helpful, but it does mean we don’t use Edgar for time sensitive posts. We don’t want it posting about Halloween in February for example.
So we’ll be dropping any interesting news items directly into the scheduler provided by Facebook
Pinterest is our second most important source of social media traffic, but we work with Pinterest in a very different way.
Unlike Facebook in the our Pinterest efforts are focused on our own sites, rather than on our pinterest accounts.
Pinterest Pin it plug in
The key to success with Pinterest lies in producing great pinnable images on your own website.
Posting them on your own pinterest account helps, but if you make the right images, your readers will pin them for you.
That is why our final step in the set up of social media for both these blogs, was to install a pin it plug in.
A few months ago, I noticed that the pinterest traffic going to the Labrador Site had dropped from nearly ten thousand a month, to just under two thousand.
It took a while before I figured out what had happened. Our pin it plug in had stopped working.
That’s all it took to lose us eight thousand visitors. The line goes back up when we fix the problem
We now check our pinit plug ins regularly!
Income and expenditure
With no traffic, there is certainly no income – but in any case it is unlikely that we’ll be making any attempt to monetise this website for at least another year.
We already owned Genesis, the Genesis Palette and Thrive Leads. There are however some expenses we have incurred
- Purchase domain + privacy $21.28 (£15.94)
- Bluehost web hosting $114.12 (£85.68)
That’s a total of $135.40 (£101.62)
So that’s it! August was a very busy month. Our check list of set up steps was completed. We managed to finish the following
- Planning and preparation
- Set up hosting and content management
- Set up email tools
- Set up blog management tools
- Set up social media
Now the project begins in earnest.
We like to set some loose targets at this point. Not to be a slave to them, but to give us an idea what we are aiming for and to tell us when we need to ‘step up the action’ if we fall too far behind.
Targets for September are:
- 10 articles
- 500 page views
- 450 visitors
In the early weeks of a blog, when there isn’t that much for visitors to look at, pageviews are often very much the same as visitors. As soon as there are twenty or more articles available online, we expect this ratio to increase.
It’s important to set targets you have some control over, and that are a little challenging, but not impossible, in order to give yourself a good chance of success and to avoid feeling helpless
We’ll do our best to meet those targets, and each week we’ll plan our actions depending on how close we came to meeting the targets in the previous week
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